The author of this article about her experience visiting an inmate wishes to remain anonymous to protect the safety of an incarcerated friend.
I was a bit anxious… getting the kids to school about 10 minutes earlier than normal required all the moving parts to stay synchronized. Whew. Got them dropped. School traffic lightens up as I leave town. I’m careful to stay within the speed limit, then slowing when I pass through one remote school zone on the highway before I turn off.
I make this familiar drive, one that I drove just 8 days ago when I took my friend to court for a probation appearance. She rode with me that morning to take the kids to school and then we went to Blountville. No time for breakfast. We arrived in the courtroom about 10 minutes till 9. With only a 15-minute recess, we sat and waited for her name to be called until 5 minutes before noon. And that’s when the surprise “sealed” indictment was opened, charges read, and within 15 minutes she was gone.
But today, I arrive 20 minutes early for my visit, carefully re-reading the visitor instructions on my phone, getting my identification, pen and paper. I walk through the door that reads “Public Entrance” and timidly step inside. No one is there to acknowledge my arrival.
To my right is a single door. Three pieces of 8 1/2 x 11 size papers are curled at the edges and taped to the wall with instructions for visitors. I walk inside a narrow block-walled room with concrete floors, a row of six metal monitors installed on the right within those blocks, some folding chairs leaning up against the far wall. I find “my” computer terminal number, grab a chair and get ready to sit down. But with flu season upon us and so many sick, I hesitate. I decide to go out to my vehicle and get a Clorox wipe. I bring 3 for the other two visitors as well, which they accept gratefully.
I try to log-in with my unique visitor PIN number but the system won’t accept it. I must wait until within 60 seconds of my scheduled time. I wait.
Then I log in. Two bright lights shine on my face and the warning that I will be monitored and recorded. I can see myself in the lower left of the screen. Well… I can see “part” of myself. I’m only visible from the nose up. Most of the image is of the formerly used “glass” visiting booths when you would see your incarcerated loved one through a glass. Although you could not touch them, at least it was face-to-face. I’m unsure of this video system.
Ten minutes of my visit has passed. The gentleman at terminal 5 is also waiting for his friend. The lady at terminal 4 is talking with her family member. Yes, we can hear her. Not that we are eaves-dropping, but there is no privacy, no barriers, nothing except a row of chairs sitting in front of a wall. Weird.
The video visiting system was a pain from the beginning. The company website had intermittent service. I had difficulty logging in after I registered. I had to do one of those “live help chats” and have the password reset. Visits are free if you go up to the jail and use their terminals; costly if you visit from anywhere off-site. Finally I was able to login and schedule my visit.
It was two days later as I was eating supper with my father that I got the message of my visit being cancelled. What? My loved one has been moved and my visit was cancelled automatically. I called the jail right away. The officer said that the system does that when someone moves from a holding cell into regular population or when someone is release. Had she been released? He wasn’t supposed to tell me, but he looked it up and said, no.
I took that opportunity to ask a couple more questions about the visitation. All visits must be scheduled at least 24-hours in advance. No visits are in-person, all are video screen. I asked about mail, packages, and commissary. I was told that photos are only accepted during four months of the year. No packages are accepted at all. The jail gives them everything they need he said. What about underwear? Yes, we give them underwear. She wants some socks. We give them socks. If they need anything, they can purchase it at the commissary. I wondered how much things cost at the commissary? And I wondered if someone preferred boxers or briefs? or needed a certain type of material? or maybe they were cold and wanted long underwear? Each of my wonderings was answered with a silent “you’re in jail, not a resort” or “you’re in jail, what do you expect?” from my conflicted mind.
When I got home, I went to my computer to reschedule my visit, but the first available day did not have any open appointment times. The second available day did not have any appointment times either. So I had to schedule it for the third day, and my only option was early morning. Thus my drive out to Blountville at 7:45am for my early morning visit. Still waiting.
The lady at terminal 4 is wrapping up her conversation and says goodbye. She asks the gentleman at 5 if he would like her to go ask about his visitor and he says yes. When she comes back into the narrow room, she relays that the officer knows nothing about why an inmate did not show up for a visit… perhaps they were asleep, no they do not wake them, but he has no idea. I wonder if she even knows I’m here to visit? How would she know? Since there’s no approved list of visitors… since there’s no movement of “going to” visitation… what exactly is happening? Hey, I’m waiting here… still waiting for my visit… wake up!
Number 5’s time is up and he leaves, thanks me again for the clorox wipe. Two gals come in and sit next to me at terminal 2. They have no idea what they are doing, it’s obviously their first time also. They can’t logon. One goes out, comes back, and they both move down to terminal 5. They logon and start their visit.
An older man comes in and sits at terminal 3. He’s been here before. He goes straight to pick out his chair, sits till the clock ticks over, and then signs in. The lights come on and he starts chatting with his family member.
Yes, I’m still here. Where are you?
My time is ticking by and almost gone. I’m afraid to leave… just in case. I don’t want to “not” be there if she comes online. How horrible would that be? Are you not worth waiting for? Ugh. I wish I knew something… anything!
My lights go off suddenly and I realize that my 30-minutes worth of visit has been completed.